UPDATE: The owners of Willow Springs Water Park wrote today in an e-mail to TheBlaze that they will not be backing down from their church group discount and that they plan to continue honoring it. Stay tuned for more updates on this story.
Over the years, atheists activists have targeted nativities, crosses on public property, prayer and other related symbols and expressions of faith. Now, secularist activists are setting their sights on the discounts that private businesses offer to religious people. TheBlaze already told you about a restaurant in Columbia, Pennsylvania, that is facing atheistic wrath over a church bulletin discount. Now, an amusement park in Little Rock, Arkansas, is facing similar threats — and has already buckled under the pressure.
At issue is a discount that the Willow Springs Water Park has been offering to church groups. Following a non-religious organization’s complaint over being declined the same rate that religious groups enjoy, park owner David Ratliff, purportedly feeling pressure, discontinued the faith-based discount. This decision to bend to the demands of a secular organization wasn’t enough, though. Atheists fear that Willow Springs will, once again, begin offering faith-based discounts next season.
So, in a threatening letter sent by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a secular non-profit, the business was discouraged from offering the deal to faith groups next season. In its own words, the FFRF describes how the drama unfolded between the business and the non-faith-related charity — and the fears it has that Willow Springs will begin offering the discount again:
Leifel Jackson, executive director of the charitable Reaching Our Children and Neighborhoods (ROCAN), asked the water park if the discount would extend to his non-profit. Jackson was told that ROCAN could not receive the discount because it is not a church group.
ROCAN Director Jeff Poleet — a new FFRF Lifetime Member — explained to Ratliff that ROCAN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, just like a church and should not be denied the promotion.
Arkansas Matters reported that without the discount, Jackson said he couldn’t afford the admission and ROCAN’s planned trip was canceled, crushing some kids’ hopes.
As a result of his conversation with Poleet, Ratliff chose to discontinue all discounts for the remainder of this season.
In a charge led by FFRF staff attorney Stephanie Schmitt, the group is claiming that the discount is illegal both at the state and the federal level (read the complaint letter that was sent to the business on August 2). The allegation at the basis of this claim? That religious groups are being charged less than secular groups, a form of discrimination in the minds of the FFRF’s leaders that is simply not to be tolerated.
The letter went on to highlight the organization’s views about the purportedly illegal practice in an effort to dissuade Ratliff from granting religious groups the discount come next season.
“We understand that you are discontinuing these discounts altogether at least for the duration of the year,” the letter reads. “We are concerned that the discriminatory discounts will be continued at a later time or will be covertly offered.”
Schmitt went on to ask the amusement park to respond with a letter outlining the steps the business is taking “to ensure this violation of federal and state law does not occur again.”
While the FFRF complains that the deal was discriminatory against secularists, the Willow Springs Water Park, like many other businesses, offers military discounts, among others. Are these deals equally “illegal” — or does the litmus test only apply to faith groups? That’s certainly a question worth pondering.